Religious groups see victory as U.S. Supreme Court seeks compromise on Obamacare contraceptive mandate
The U.S. Supreme Court is seeking to find ways that would allow religious non-profit organisations to avoid giving notice that they're against providing contraceptive insurance coverage while ensuring that their employees get covered.
In an order released Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered all parties in seven cases to file supplemental briefs to address whether and how contraceptive coverage can be obtained by the religious non-profits' employees through their insurance companies but in a way that will not require them involvement that they say violate their religious beliefs.
It's an indication that one member of the High Court, most likely Justice Anthony Kennedy, is seeking to avoid a 4-4 decision, the USA Today reported.
The Supreme Court voted 4-4 in the past eight days following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month.
"The parties are directed to address whether contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners' employees, through petitioners' insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners," the Supreme Court's order read.
The High Court is currently hearing seven cases including that of the Little Sisters of the Poor on whether religiously-affiliated employers such as charities, hospitals and universities are mandated to file a form or write a letter to get out of providing contraceptive coverage to their employees.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty praised the order.
"This is an excellent development. Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters' concern that the government's current scheme forces them to violate their religion," said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the fund. "We look forward to offering alternatives that protect the Little Sisters' religious liberty while allowing the government to meet its stated goals."
The Supreme Court cited an example where the parties should consider a situation in which petitioners would contract to provide health insurance for their employees, and in the course of obtaining such insurance, inform their insurance company that they do not want their health plan to include contraceptive coverage of the type to which they object on religious grounds.
As such, the religious non-profits would have no legal obligation to provide such contraceptive coverage, would not pay for such coverage, and would not be required to submit any separate notice to their insurer, to the Federal Government, or to their employees, the High Court said.
At the same time, petitioners' insurance company, which is now aware that petitioners are not providing certain contraceptive coverage on religious grounds, would separately notify petitioners' employees that the insurance company will provide cost-free contraceptive coverage, and that such coverage is not paid for by petitioners and is not provided through petitioners' health plan.
It will be a win-win situation as it would also mean victory for the government as workers would get free coverage if a new regulation is implemented, the USA Today report added.
The eight justices appear to be equally divided on the Affordable Care Act cases, which could result in a deadlock over the contraceptive mandate.